Alex Turner talks to the SRD board. Photo by Mike Chouinard/Campbell River Mirror

Sayward residents want cell service along highways

Regional District board will write CRTC to push for more service

It’s easy to take cell phone service for granted in many places.

If you’re living or travelling on the highway to a small community like Sayward, you could be out of luck though.

Some in the community want to change this and have asked the Strathcona Regional District (SRD) to write a letter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to push providers like Telus to expand service.

Alex Turner, director of Sayward Futures Society, spoke to the SRD board at their most recent meeting and said the lack of service makes it hard to provide information for many visitors now once they arrive.

“Here we are with no continuous cell phone service on the highway on Vancouver Island,” he told the SRD board.

Turner got involved because of his role as a volunteer consultant to the tourism group, which has an information booth on the highway. They are hoping to have a QR code people can access through their phones.

“We’ve been advised that information booths are a little passé,” he said. “People now use their electronics to get their information.”

More importantly, there are safety concerns in the event of an accident, especially late at night on the highway and some distance from a land line in Sayward. There is a pay phone at Roberts Lake between Sayward and Campbell River, Turner said, but many might not know that exists.

“That could be the difference between life and death,” he said. “You think it’d be a no-brainer to have that [cell phone] service.”

So far, telecommunications providers have not been responsive and have no immediate plans to add service beyond the community of Sayward.

“We know that Telus is not a very responsive company, but what they do respond to is the CRTC,” he said. “If the CRTC orders Telus to put this service in place, Telus will put it in place.”

Turner asked the SRD board, along with other municipalities, chambers of commerce and businesses, to consider writing the CRTC to demand service for the area. He hopes this service could be set up within a few months if there is enough grassroots support for the idea.

Andy Adams, Campbell River’s mayor and one of the city’s directors, said he was aware of the issue from his days driving around Vancouver Island while working in the health sector and actually had a close friend who went off the road and down a hill.

“Her cell phone worked but couldn’t get any connection,” he said. “She sat in a car, injured, for a day and a half.”

Adams cited the SRD’s Connected Coast initiative as a means to improve service throughout the region, particularly in remote and rural communities.

John MacDonald, Sayward’s mayor and SRD director, said he has written Telus and also spoke to provincial government officials at a recent Union of British Columbia Municipalities meeting about putting together a broader plan for smaller communities to the west of Campbell River.

“We are working on it,” he said.

Some on the SRD board emphasized the need to get large businesses such as fish farms or forestry companies in the region involved in the effort.

“Telus does listen to their large customers,” Campbell River Director Charlie Cornfield said.

Near the conclusion of the board meeting, SRD directors voted to write a letter of support to the CRTC for the idea to expand coverage to highway corridors on Vancouver Island.